Warren Davidson beat out a crowd of 15 fellow Republicans to take a job that it’s hard to imagine anyone would want: a U.S. congressman elected to fill the seat vacated by the former Speaker of the House John Boehner.
But one year into his term as the congressman representing a great swath of southwest Ohio that includes Butler, Clark, Darke, Miami, Preble and a bit of Mercer counties – after being yelled at during town halls and being at the epicenter of an epic policy fight over the GOP replacement for Obamacare – Davidson is determined.
A member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, Davidson insists he is in Washington to find policy solutions. He still marvels that even the layout of hearing rooms seems to discourage compromise and problem-solving. He marvels at members’ offices that include couches – his has a white board and a conference table. “We’re here to work,” he said, saying that even lawmakers’ offices seem designed to “preserve the status quo.” Bipartisan solution making, he said, tends to earn criticism and political challenges.
“Why don’t people go, sit down, brainstorm and solve problems?” he asks. “Well, they’re kind of punished for that.”
Less government, more efficient
The Troy Republican is resolute about the need for less government, but also insistent that Congress should make the government that does exist work as efficiently as possible. His conservatism, as he describes it, is a fairly pragmatic one: He won’t fight for more federal funding, for example, but if a grant program exists and one of his communities qualifies for the funding, he will pursue it.
“I came here to solve problems and change laws,” he said.
Davidson, 47, looked like something of an outlier during his run for Congress last year: He was a political newcomer with an impressive resume, one who’d served as a West Point-educated Army Ranger and who had been a successful businessman in Troy. He faced veteran lawmakers such as state Sen. Bill Beagle and state Rep. Tim Derickson in a Republican primary.
But Davidson had his own star power: He was essentially recruited and endorsed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and the conservative Club for Growth helped fund his race.
“He’s a super guy,” said Jordan, who suggested Davidson run on a whim when meeting him. “I’m glad he’s the guy we decided to support. He’s been even better than we thought he would be.”
On the other end of the GOP spectrum, former Rep. David Hobson, R-Springfield, has also been impressed. Hobson, a moderate who has been critical of the far right wing of his party, said Davidson seems more inclined to find solutions than to just shut the government down.
“I think he’s a strong, principled person who’s really smart,” Hobson said.
But his first year has not been without wrinkles. He elicited boos during a town hall meeting when he told a woman that her son should get a better job if he wants better insurance when Obamacare is repealed.
“OK, I don’t know anything about your son, but as you described him, his skills are focused in an industry that doesn’t have the kind of options that you want him to have for health care,” he said. “So, I don’t believe that these taxpayers here are entitled to give that to him. I believe he’s got the opportunity to go earn those health benefits.”
Davidson later stood by those comments through a spokesman.
“Rep. Davidson had a time in his life when he did not have health insurance himself,” said Alexei Woltornist, a Davidson spokesman. He resolved that by making opportunities for himself by enlisting in the Army, where he earned healthcare. He certainly empathizes with the mother and the son and he believes that more government is not the solution to their problem. It is because of government mandates and regulations that healthcare costs have risen by double digit percentages in Ohio year after year.”
Brian Hester, communications director for the Butler County Democratic Party, said Davidson is a “puppet” to conservative donors.
“For the past year, Davidson has been focused on delivering for his extremist, out-of-state conservative donors that make the bulk of his campaign donations while ignoring the needs of the people here,” he said, saying Davidson is “concerned more with blocking meaningful change in Washington than actually working to improve the lives of working families in his district.”
Davidson has seen some successes as well. He elicited a shout out from Speaker Paul Ryan during the initial drafting of the Republican alternative to Obamacare for fighting against a plan to tax employer sponsored plans. Davidson said doing so would’ve spurred employers who offer more generous benefits to offer more meager benefits. “That’s something put on the highlight reel,” Davidson said.
And when he got wind of Wittenberg University being denied an Upward Bound application because it had made a mistake in formatting the application, he rallied 32 House members to get the Department of Education to reconsider the applications of 77 schools that had seen their applications rejected for the equivalent of a typo. Hobson said he did so by networking and doggedly pursuing the problem – even to the point of inserting language into a spending bill directing the Department of Education to reconsider the schools rejected for formatting issues and appealing directly to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“Complaining without offering a solution is whining,” said Davidson. “So we don’t whine. We find a solution.”
“My sense is he enjoys solving problems,” said Hobson. “Wittenberg – that to me is evidence of what he would do in the future.”
Hobson said Davidson is effective enough at working with conservatives and more moderate Republicans that he might have leadership potential.
“I think people are beginning to see his strengths,” he said. “That he might be a good person to be in a position to help.”